July 2, 2016
Novak Djokovic will not be Wimbledon Champion this year. He won’t even feature in week two.
The great man lost to the 28th seed, an American called Sam Querrey, who registered the biggest win of his career, 7-6 (8-6), 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (7-5) after further interruptions for rain.
This was his first Wimbledon defeat in 17 matches and his first Slam reverse in 31 matches.
Novak was almost regarded as unbeatable when it really mattered. Not any more.
Those who thought he would recover his form today and win in five sets were mistaken. Sam Querrey just wouldn’t go away.
He refused to succumb to the expectations of others. He knew what he could do and he executed his game plan with stubborn brilliance.
Djokovic hadn’t gone out in the third round of a Slam since 2009. The man who held all four Gland Slams in his hands was finally beaten, when perhaps we least expected it.
Querrey wasn’t exactly in shock but he was certainly a happy man afterwards. He said: ‘It’s incredible. I’m so ecstatic. I think today I played the break points really well.’
He knew Djokovic would come back strong. But now it is going to be more of a long-term comeback.
Querrey added: ‘He came out and won the first four games. He is arguably on his way to becoming the greatest player of all time. I know he is going to come back.’
Djokovic was such a shadow of his usual formidable self on Friday evening that you wondered whether he would have survived the conclusion of another set.
As it was, he was saved by the rain and appeared to come out suitably refreshed on Saturday, racing to a 4-0 led in the third.
Even then, however, there were signs that all was not well. Querrey broke back and boosted his own morale before succumbing in that third set.
And in the fourth, the American might even have wrapped up the match earlier than he did, as he threatened to go 4-2 ahead.
As it was, Djokovic seemed to have achieved the most important break to go 5-4 up and hand himself the chance to serve for overall parity.
Incredibly, he fluffed a relatively simple volley, which fell lamely into the net and gave Querrey a fresh share of the set at 5-5.
Suddenly Novak looked world-weary once more, as if it was almost unfair to expect him to play like a machine – or indeed at all – after the unique emotion of Roland Garros and the Career Slam he achieved there.
Djokovic and No 1 Court don’t seem to get along. Last year he was almost knocked out by Kevin Anderson of South Africa and had to come from two sets behind on the second day of the match in order to save his Wimbledon campaign.
This year he faced the same challenge but didn’t seem to relish day two of the match in the way he had done twelve months earlier. He glared at his coach, Boris Becker, darlkly, almost complainingly.
Djokovic took the fourth set to a tie-break and initially he used his experience, while Querrey tightened temporarily with the enormity of what he might be about to achieve. Novak went 3-1 up but then wobbled as the persistent American fought back to 3-3.
Before we knew it, Querrey had two match points at 6-4. Djokovic had left himself wide open by hitting too long.
Djokovic saved the first match point but the second came on Querrey’s serve. Even then, it was an unforced error – a truly wild forehand swipe to send the ball spinning wide – that proved to be the final nail in the coffin for Novak at Wimbledon this year.
To be fair to Novak, he was perfectly honest at the start of the tournament, and freely admitted that his triumph in Paris had ‘taken a lot out of me.’
Such is his winning record at Wimbledon that we only partially believed him, expecting the world number one to play like the very best at all times.
But sports people aren’t like that. And even Djokovic, a man who has come as close as anyone – including the great Roger Federer – to achieving tennis perfection isn’t actually perfect.
Perhaps we had forgotten. The reminder stunned us all.